UPDATE 1-Vivendi to weigh French telco IPO in next phase of overhaul

Tue Apr 30, 2013 11:49am EDT

* Fourtou asks restless shareholders for patience

* Says Bollore becoming chairman not now on table

* Vivendi sees future in its media, content units

* Seeking exits on telcos, including Maroc Tel, SFR (Adds details on strategy review, CEO)

By Leila Abboud

PARIS, April 30 (Reuters) - Vivendi said on Tuesday that it would consider a public listing of its French telecom operator SFR as part of its plan to reduce exposure to the capital-intensive unit in favor of its media businesses.

Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou asked shareholders for patience while Vivendi seeks to proceed with the next stage of its year-old strategy review after an expected preliminary deal in the coming days to sell its Maroc Telecom unit.

There were signs of restlessness among the retail investors who tend to flock to French annual shareholder meetings, with shouts of "resign, resign" ringing from the crowd.

But Fourtou, with the apparent backing of Vivendi's largest shareholder Vincent Bollore, is insisting he's in no hurry to sell anything, especially at the wrong price.

"I can assure you that we are progressing on our review although we are not in a rush. Our priorities are doing one or two disposals to reduce debt, and use the proceeds in a way to benefit shareholders," Fourtou said at an annual shareholders' meeting.

"Another priority is to put in place the best strategy for SFR. We could proceed to an initial public offering of SFR later," he said, adding that this would not be a short-term move and would be done only after operational improvements.

Still, he played down talk that Bollore, who became a shareholder in Vivendi when he sold it two TV channels last year would replace him as chairman anytime soon, saying any such move was "for the future" and up the the company's board.

The idea of an IPO for SFR comes after Vivendi last year examined options including a sale of the unit or a tie-up with local cable operator Numericable. It decided against the moves because it preferred to first stabilise the business, which like other French telcos has been stuggling with tougher competition.

Turning Vivendi into a pure play media group means finding a solution for SFR, which generates more than half of group operating profit.

SFR is expecting a 12 percent drop in its EBITDA this year to 2.9 billion euros ($3.80 billion) as the price war underway in the French market continues. SFR in January simplified its mobile offers and reduced prices again, and continues to cut costs in a bid to protect margins despite falling revenues.

Vivendi executives said on Tuesday they were confident that SFR would begin to show operational improvements next year as its investments in super-fast mobile network, known as 4G, helped claw back pricing power and retain customers.

Fortou also said he did not expect the sale of Maroc Telecom to one of two Gulf telecom operators in contention - Etisalat or Ooredoo - to close before autumn, adding that the process was being undertaken in close cooperation with the Moroccan state. ($1 = 0.7634 euros) (Additional reporting by Christian Plumb; Editing by Elena Berton)